How does a Polish boy from South Bend, Indiana grow up to become one of Sonoma County (not to mention the world’s) greatest bread bakers?
During Mike Zakowski’s formative years, food was always prevalent. His Polish grandparents were farmers, raising pigs, cows, and chickens. They also grew fruit trees and vegetables. He grew up tending the garden, seeing to the weeds, pruning, and so on. Each fall, he helped his mother put up food for the winter. He has lived the slow food lifestyle since before he knew what Slow Food was. His family’s sensibilities shaped Mike’s view on food from his earliest days, a view that would help lead him to success in his field.
Mike’s career started on the line right out of high school; then he attended culinary school at 23. From there he landed an internship in Dallas where he discovered a love of baking. He eventually started at Dallas’ Corner Bakery, where worked his way up.
Artisan Bakery brought him to Sonoma where he spent 6 years as the operations manager. There was one problem. Mike was bored managing people. He wanted to bake. Mike decided to begin entering baking competitions on the side. He did pretty well, because it wasn’t long before he left Artisan to try his lot.
Mike wanted to bring beautiful, handmade, small batch bread to customers.
Real, hearty bread made with wholesome ingredients that look nothing like the bread sitting on your grocer’s shelf. Soon, he started bringing his own award winning bread to the Sonoma Farmer’s Market and the people of Sonoma began to line up.
His ingredients are locally sourced, and grains are milled in-house or at local mills. He tries to grow some of the produce himself, although he has had to defer to local farms for produce, as his time has gotten more limited. He ferments his dough for a longer period of time than you will often see nowadays, refusing to take even the smallest shortcut.
“Two hands, flour, water and salt” is all Mike needs to make an incredible loaf of bread.
No fillers, no shortcuts. He also wood fires his bread giving it a beautiful flavor. All in all, it takes Mike 30 hours to bake for just one farmers market, meaning that it is only possible for him to make it to two markets a week. He has no intention of taking shortcuts or compromising his beliefs on how bread should be made to make an extra buck. He strives to bring only the highest quality end product to his customers.
When asked about why he feels this long form method is so important he replies,“Cheap short process fermentation has ruined bread as it was. I won’t do wholesale.
That is just all about numbers and not giving a shit about quality.”
He went on to say, “You are what you eat and most people don’t take that part seriously. Eat good food or you can go to the doctor. Money is no object when it comes to quality food.”
Be sure to check out Mike’s website and visit him at the Farmers Market the next time you’re in Sonoma County.
What Mike loves about Sonoma: “The cycling here is amazing. The area boasts an abundance of nuts, fruit, olive oil, cheese veggies, wine, and beer. Not to mention a great farmers market. Food is my life.”
-Photography by Mike Zakowski and Colin Blackshear